We open with a train going across a long bridge as we hear a woman reciting a letter to her father. As she tells her father that she has been taken for ransom, we go inside the train and see Thomas (Dan Stevens) reading the letter while holding a large locket that is open, displaying a picture of his sister. Thomas’ sister describes how she is being held against her will and won’t be released until a ransom is paid and warns that if the police are involved, she will be killed.
We cut to a drawing room a few days in the past, and instead of Thomas’s sister reading, it’s now a lawyer. The lawyer is reading the letter to Thomas, who looks disheveled, with dirty clothes on, long hair and a beard. Thomas grabs the letter from the lawyer, and he explains that they and the world thought Thomas was dead. The lawyer explains that the letter was addressed to Thomas’s father but that the father has gone mad since Thomas was presumed dead. Thomas slowly looks into the next room to see his father sitting in a chair staring at a fireplace. The lawyer pleads with Thomas to help his sister. Thomas then asks about the ransom.
We cut back to the train, and we see that Thomas has shaved off his beard and cut his hair. We hear the lawyer explain that Thomas’s sister is being held by a religious cult that lives on an island. The lawyer tells Thomas to be careful, that the leader of the cult is a ‘dangerous man’ and not to give them the ransom until Thomas sees that his sister is alive. Thomas is visibly upset and appears to be in horrible shape. He pulls out a small green bottle, unscrews the stopper and puts several drops into his mouth. It is evident that Thomas is addicted to what is in the green bottle because Thomas begins to relax after consuming the drops. After Thomas has given himself a shave, he washes his straight blade in the sink, folds it up, and puts it in his pocket. He puts on his hat and coat and leaves his berth. Thomas is off on a journey to rescue his sister but will he be too late and will Thomas even survive what could be his island of doom?
This is how writer/director Gareth Evans latest film, now streaming on Netflix, starts. Evans previously gave us ‘The Raid’ films, and also wrote/directed the ‘Safe Haven’ segment in ‘V/H/S/2.’ ‘Apostle’ starts out as a mystery/thriller but eventually become a gothic horror film. Set in 1905, Thomas heads off to a small, mysterious island called Erisden. The movie is a slow descent to hell as Thomas begins to discover that the island and its leader, Prophet Malcolm (Micheal Sheen) have many secrets, some which may be deadly. Prophet Malcolm preaches that they live in a peaceful and idyllic community and that he is protecting the welfare of his congregation, unlike Englands King who the Prophet feels only wants to tax and oppress his people. Thomas is not fooled by Prophet Malcolm, seeing first hand how ruthless the Prophet can be when a man is murdered when he suspected of being a spy.
If you are expecting wall to wall violence like Evans’ Raid films, then you will be disappointed. There is plenty of violence, but it’s a slow burn until near the end of the film. Thomas is not the best pick to infiltrate a cult and save someone. He is sometimes slow to act, continually makes terrible decisions and stands out like a sore thumb due to his what I am guessing is an opium addiction.
The cinematography, by Matt Flannery who previously worked on Evans’ Raid films, is dark and gritty, where even fields of wheat look sick and fouled, and the town looks dangerous and threatening. Evans direction is taught and centers on characters that are rich and complex.
Dan Stevens gives a solid performance of a tortured soul who’s only mission in life is to save his sister. Michael Sheen is fantastic as the charismatic cult leader who sees his vision of a perfect religious community slowly fall apart. Sheen portrays the Prophet as a man who wants peace but is too tightly wound to stay in control. Lucy Boynton plays Andrea, the daughter of the Prophet’s brother and serves as the town doctor. Boynton gives an excellent performance as the possible love interest of Thomas and the voice of reason in a community that desperately needs it.
‘Apostle’ is reminiscent of films like ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973) or ‘Children of the Corn’ (1984), showing what happens with a cult slowly starts to fall apart and people turn on each other. ‘Apostle,’ while slightly too long at 130 minutes, is at its best when it lets itself get weird and creepy as it horrifically plunges into chaos and destruction.
My Rating: Full Price
Mike’s rating system from Best to Worst:
1).. I Would Pay to See it Again
2). Full Price
3). Bargain Matinee
5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again